Live music could be dying at Empyrean Coffee House.
Like many venues across the state, Empyrean is facing a new law that would require the costly installation of sprinklers in an effort to prevent a repeat of the sort of fire that killed 100 people during a Great White concert at a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003.
Empyrean, considered by many to be the centerpiece of the all-ages music scene in Spokane, is one of several local stops for live music that is scrambling to get in compliance before the new Washington law takes effect on Dec. 1.
Empyrean’s owner, Chrisy Riddle, said the coffee shop and creative arts hub would need to come up with about $20,000 for the sprinkler installation.
Several local musicians are banding together to throw a series of benefit shows, starting with a pair of Fire Sprinkler Benefit concerts this weekend.
“We’re not throwing any fundraisers for ourselves. We were planning on closing down, but so many people were asking what they can do to help. … Obviously Empyrean is important to the community and we’re willing to accept help from anyone,” said Riddle, who is also an English teacher at Central Valley High School.
“These junior high kids had a bake sale and raised $80 for us. If it’s important enough for two kids to give us $80, that gives us some hope.”
Richard Tieman has been playing in local bands since he was in high school. When the 22-year-old hard rock drummer heard Empyrean was in jeopardy he felt compelled to get involved.
So he gathered more than 20 bands to play this weekend’s shows.
“I know how limited we are as far as venues, and to lose such a landmark venue would be devastating to the scene,” Tieman said.
“We know we probably won’t be able to raise all the money, but this show is a way for us to show our support and say thanks to Empyrean for being a great venue.”
Other local venues that would need to install sprinkler systems under the new law include The Big Dipper, Dempsey’s Brass Rail, Ichiban Sushi Lounge, Jimmy’Z Fine Food Spirits and Lounge, Caterina Winery and Talotti’s 211.
Big Dipper owner Steve Spickard is expected to shut down live music altogether. Dempsey’s is paying for the installation of sprinklers.
Talotti’s is altering its floor plan and adding permanent seating; the new law targets nightclubs with designated dance floor space. Caterina, too, is adding more exits and making other renovations that will bring it into compliance.
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